Natural Resources and Environment:

Are Agencies Doing Enough or Too Much for Archeological Preservation? Guidance Needed

CED-81-61: Published: Apr 22, 1981. Publicly Released: May 4, 1981.

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Congress has passed the National Historic Preservation Act Amendments to provide additional guidance and clarification to the National Preservation Program. The amendments give the Secretary of the Interior the authority to waive the 1-percent limitation on the use of project funds to defray the costs of data recovery, increase the role of state historic preservation programs, and clarify federal agency responsibilities. GAO reviewed the programs of eight agencies whose activities had potential major impacts on archeological sites, the operations of five state historic preservation offices, and the program management of the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).

The National Archeology Program, which costs about $100 million a year, is not working well. The Department of the Interior must provide better leadership and direction to federal agencies and states. Without better guidance, some federal agencies could spend billions of dollars over the next 10 to 30 years for archeological surveys, many of which may not be necessary, while other agencies may not do enough to identify and protect archeological sites. Interior has not established good criteria for agencies to use in determining whether identified sites are important to the national heritage, nor has it provided guidance on the extent to which archeological resources must be recovered, recorded, or preserved to comply with federal laws and regulations. This has resulted in project delays, increased costs, and general confusion over what is required to identify sites, determine their significance, and protect their resources. Federal departments and agencies interpret their responsibility for identifying archeological resources differently. Federal agencies rarely coordinate archeological overview studies, which could avoid duplication and save money. State historic preservation offices could help federal agencies determine which properties have state and local significance and are eligible for listing on the National Register. While some agencies limit archeological excavation to project areas, others require federal permittees and grantees to excavate sites well outside those areas. Lack of information on program costs and accomplishments hampers the program.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should establish formal coordination procedures among federal and state agencies performing archeological overviews.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior believes that its comprehensive computerized archeological and cultural resource database, begun in FY 1984, will significantly improve formal coordination procedures among federal and state agencies performing archeological overviews.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Interior, and ACHP should, either together or separately, seek the opinion of the Attorney General concerning the extent to which HUD is required to make archeological surveys to determine whether archeological resources will be affected by federally assisted housing projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ACHP regulations were published in September 1986 and became effective October 1, 1986. Because of more important needs, the HUD policy guide concerning archeological surveys and mitigation has been put on hold. However, HUD agreed to consult with ACHP and Interior before finalizing this draft policy.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Interior, and ACHP should, either together or separately, seek the opinion of the Attorney General concerning the extent to which HUD is required to make archeological surveys to determine whether archeological resources will be affected by federally assisted housing projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Because of other priorities at HUD, ACHP has not been successful in reinstituting consultation with HUD. However, HUD agreed to consult with ACHP and Interior before finalizing its draft policy guide concerning archeological surveys and mitigation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Interior, and ACHP should, either together or separately, seek the opinion of the Attorney General concerning the extent to which HUD is required to make archeological surveys to determine whether archeological resources will be affected by federally assisted housing projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior officials have not sought the opinion of the Attorney General but, instead, are attempting to encourage HUD to undertake the required preservation activities pursuant to authorities in the 1980 amendments. The Secretary of the Interior issued standards and guidelines on archeology and historic preservation, which officials believe state the responsibilities of the federal agencies.

    Recommendation: ACHP should require federal agencies to define specific significant research questions to be addressed in data recovery, in order to justify archeological excavation costs.

    Agency Affected: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: ACHP had planned efforts to: (1) promote focused research to include consultation with the academic community on research topics of national scope; and (2) review agency procurement processes to determine how they can be changed to obtain better results. This activity has been suspended for the lack of time and staff.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should allocate a portion of Historic Preservation Fund grants for state preservation plan development and make available to states 70-percent federal against 30-percent state matching grants to use in developing statewide plans based on criteria established by the Secretary in consultation with the various states.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year (FY) 1982 and 1983, 70/30-percent funding was made available to states. In FY 1983, all states were required to make measurable progress toward a state comprehensive planning system. This is a continuing program where state plans are reviewed and monitored and funds are apportioned to states based on their progress in meeting their program plans.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should promulgate regulations on federal data recovery efforts and reporting systems, including the development of agency reporting systems for providing information to Interior and agency management on program costs and accomplishments, so that program effectiveness can be monitored and reported to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior is no longer tracking this recommendation and plans no further action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should promulgate regulations on federal data recovery efforts and reporting systems, including improved dissemination of archeological reports to the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) so that information can be made available to the archeological profession and federal, state, and local officials in a decisionmaking capacity.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior is no longer tracking this recommendation and plans no further action.

    Recommendation: ACHP should require federal agencies, on large and controversial archeological projects, to establish peer review panels to help agencies determine how much archeological excavation is necessary and to monitor contractor progress and performance.

    Agency Affected: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ACHP made an effort to establish a roster of qualified archeologists willing to serve on peer review panels, but geographic coverage was so spotty that ACHP did not find the roster useful. Although ACHP has encouraged peer review panels where applicable, it has encountered a fair degree of agency resistance to their use. However, ACHP plans to continue to recommend peer review panels.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should promulgate regulations on federal data recovery and reporting systems, including who should pay for archeological work so that unnecessary project delays and increased costs can be prevented.

    Agency Affected: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior believes that its policy over who should pay, published in the Federal Register on March 26, 1979, was clarified by section 302 of the National Historic Preservation Act, added by section 501 of the 1980 amendments. GAO believes that, although the 1980 amendments broadened preservation costs that could be paid for, the question as to who is responsible is still open.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should promulgate regulations on federal data recovery efforts and reporting systems, including the specific circumstances and extent to which agencies are required to excavate sites outside a project's direct impact area.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior is no longer tracking this recommendation and plans no further action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should make state historic preservation offices the focal point for determining whether archeological resources are significant enough to list on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS is implementing this by providing training in comprehensive planning and working within legal authority to develop a more programmatic format for nominations, which include certifying the adequacy of state National Register nomination programs. Once a state is certified, it would be given increased responsibility within statutory limits to determine National Register nominations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require states to submit adequate plans as a condition of receiving Historic Preservation funds.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Adequate comprehensive planning is a requirement for an approved state program under section 101(b)(3)(c) of the National Historic Preservation Act, as amended. These plans are reviewed by Interior as part of the state approval process. During FY 1983, Interior required all states to make tangible and measurable progress toward a state comprehensive planning system.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should finalize regulations setting forth detailed procedures explaining how federal agencies are to conduct surveys and investigations to locate and identify archeological properties.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO concern was addressed through the preparation of standards and associated guidance. Interior prepared guidelines for agencies to carry out their responsibilities under section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The guidelines were published in the Federal Register in March 1986. Interior published final guidelines in the Federal Register on February 17, 1988.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Forest Service to improve its program for identifying archeological resources by performing archeological surveys on Forest Service lands before timber harvests or other land-altering projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA completed an activity review, which resulted in an interim direction calling for archeological surveys on Forest Service lands before timber harvests or other land-altering projects. USDA modified its cultural resource manual, which was issued in April 1988.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should propose to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revisions to Executive Order 11593 to state that federal agencies are required to conduct archeological surveys on federal lands only: (1) when a land-disturbing activity is planned; (2) when the operation of existing projects may threaten resources; or (3) on a sampling basis as part of overview studies for general planning purposes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Alternative action is in process and expected to be completed by the end of FY 1984. Most of the major points of Executive Order 11593 were codified by the 1980 amendments. It left intact the requirement that archeological surveys be done on all federal lands, but it did not address the points GAO made in this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to improve its program for identifying archeological resources by monitoring projects to verify that significant archeological sites are protected.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ACHP regulations disagreement was somewhat resolved in 1985 when it issued revised guidelines. The guidelines were sufficient for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to resume the drafting of 2360 instructions in its service manual dealing with reporting and monitoring guidelines. Even without the guidelines, more attention has been given to monitoring because of increased illegal activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to improve its program for identifying archeological resources by making sufficiently comprehensive surveys to preclude the need to resurvey the same lands for future projects.

    Agency Affected: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service's system for reporting cultural resource management accomplishments is on-line and producing reports. The system, implemented in FY 1982, is being updated. A document was also prepared to recommend changes in the archeological inventory process. Regional workshops were also held to determine the need for changes in the inventory procedures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should issue guidelines for the appropriate and consistent development of state archeological data management capabilities, state archeological surveys, and determination of state and local site significance.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Standards and guidelines for archeology and historic preservation were developed by NPS and issued for use on September 29, 1983, in the areas of archeological investigation, preservation, planning, identification, evaluation, and registration.

    Recommendation: ACHP should require federal agencies to relate data recovery to priorities defined in state historic preservation plans, where approved plans exist.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The ACHP revised proposed regulations allow for section 106 responsibilities to be delegated to state historic preservation officers (SHPO) providing: (1) the program is approved by the Secretary of the Interior; (2) the state has satisfactorily developed a preservation plan; and (3) ACHP determines that the state process is as effective as the procedures used in ACHP section 106 regulations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should seek an amendment to the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act clarifying Interior's rulemaking authority.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior has not sought any amendment because it believes that the National Historic Preservation Amendments of 1980 give the Secretary of the Interior sufficient authority for promulgating standards and guidelines to assist federal agencies in carrying out archeological and historic preservation responsibilities.

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